Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers
There’s always some gambling involved in gift-giving, which is what makes gift sets so great. More items mean your recipient is bound to find something unexpected, useful, or just downright delightful — which is what you want when you’re shopping for the mom who has everything (or one who’s hard to please). With the holiday being little over a month away (May 8, if you needed a reminder), we went in search of the best sets, baskets, and bundles — and to make sure these were actually worth it, each of the following features at least one Strategist-approved item that we’ve written about, either recommended to us or vetted by our own editors and writers.
Brooklyn-based tea atelier Bellocq makes a breakfast blend that tea consultant Sara Shacket says works with or without milk as a coffee alternative. The super-giftable, sunshine-yellow box features the aforementioned Bellocq Breakfast, along with four other packets of loose-leaf teas including Majorelle Mint and Etoile de l’Inde (a green tea). It also comes with 25 filter bags for easy steeping.
If she’s just trying to cut back on coffee (or her caffeine consumption in general), this set of matcha powders will introduce her to the power of green tea. It’s a favorite of New York Times book critic Molly Young, who happens to be a daily matcha drinker. Young praises Breakaway’s quality, saying that the brand “treat[s] matcha like fine wine.” The set includes four blends with notes that range from umami to sweet.
Update her Kirkland to Brightland: The status-y olive oil has food media in a frenzy, according to Anna Hezel, senior editor at Taste, because of its use of heirloom olives that adds an herbaceous hint to fried eggs and roasted veggies alike. This four-piece capsule features the brand’s best-selling Awake EVOO, champagne vinegar, orange-blossom honey, and a gold spout to prevent spills.
Former Cut beauty director Kathleen Hou calls Augustinus Bader’s cream “the secret to rich-person skin.” It’s also been featured in our moisturizers for dry skin guide, where Kim Zimmerman of Rescue Spa describes it as perfect for “the laziest nights when you don’t have time to slather on a million serums but you still want all the anti-aging benefits.” This duo includes the original formula and the even thicker version aptly called the Rich Cream. Since the two start at $89 for 15 milliliters each, you’re getting a pretty sweet deal on top, too.
Until very recently, my mom didn’t quite get the point of having a skin-care habit. This Borghese mud mask, which she used to use in the ’80s and had forgotten about, made her do an about-face. The pore-unclogging, hyperpigmentation-fighting, and complexion-boosting mask works just as well as it did then — we both swear by it now, as do some Strategist readers who remember their own moms slathering it on too. The Icons box includes a jar, along with body and hand creams.
Smith’s Rosebud Salve is an essential for activist Janet Mock, model Winnie Harlow, and the one and only Beyoncé, who even uses it as a mascara primer to make her lashes look shinier. It’s a favorite of Nicky Hilton’s, too — she’s been using it for over two decades and stashes backups in drawers and diaper bags. The set includes the classic rosebud, along with strawberry and minted rose scents.
Kate McLeod’s Body Stones converted former Strategist writer Chloe Anello, her mother, and her grandmother from their lotion-loathing ways. This sampler set of three costs even less than a full-size Body Stone and comes with three lotion bars: the Daily Stone (rose scented), Sleep Stone (infused with lavender), and Naked Stone (with notes of cacao and vanilla). Anello’s grandmother actually prefers the mini-sizes as they’re easier to hold.
You can’t go wrong with Trade Street Jam Co. The Black-owned business earned a spot in our gourmand gift guide for its unexpected flavor combinations like strawberry, chipotle, and fig and kiwi with vanilla. This set was specially curated for Mother’s Day, with items handpicked by founder Ashley Rouse’s mom. This includes the brand’s sour cherry with ginger blend, cherry-chipotle mocktail mix, a wooden spoon for scooping, and a Baggu tote imprinted with the words “spread jam” (in a trippier font than the classic “Thank you for shopping” plastic bag).
Aesop’s Resurrection hand wash is the king of status soaps, so coveted that it’s frequently stolen from restaurants. This trio (which features citrusy and woodsy notes) includes a sample-size wash (3.4 ounces versus the full 16.9), a rinse-free version, and a hand-model-recommended balm.
Strategist writer Tembe Denton-Hurst is our resident candle whisperer — if she raves about one, we always listen. Boy Smell’s Kush topped her list of the best-smelling candles, especially as it “evolves like a conversation with an old friend: bright at the surface and then increasingly complex as the hours stretch on.” This cannabis-themed quartet of votives features petite versions (three ounces instead of eight) of lemon-peel-forward Kush, musky Cashmere Kush, suede-scented Cowboy Kush, and Italian Kush with patchouli.
Baggu has appeared all over our archives, counting Coming Soon co-founder Fabiana Faria and Lisa Bühler, founder of Lisa Says Gah!, as devotees. We’re particularly partial to this set that comes in three different fruit patterns, folded up in a drawstring pouch that can be reused over and over again as well.
If her old ride could use a new-car smell, D.S. & Durga’s auto fragrances are a little more luxurious than what she currently has hanging from the rearview mirror. The five-piece set includes road-trip-themed scents with names like Concrete After Lightning and ’85 Diesel, a scent that Strategist editor Maxine Builder says makes her “feel like I’m trundling down a beach road in my 1974 Ford Bronco even when I’m just attempting to parallel park my car next to McCarren Park.”
The Byredo Discovery Set consists of six two-milliliter vials of its popular perfumes, including Bibliothèque, Bal d’Afrique, and Gypsy Water. The last is “like a vintage leather jacket that goes with everything and molds to your body — super-elegant but not uptight,” explains Sable Yong, co-host of the Smell Ya Later podcast. Once you order the set, you’ll be sent a voucher code to spend towards a full-size bottle of Mom’s favorite.
Bala bangles will give her workouts a bit of resistance. The wrist weights became a breakout star of many quarantine exercise routines, especially as they’re “a far cry from their bulky Jazzercise-era counterparts,” writes former Strategist senior writer Karen Iorio Adelson. The kit also comes with the brand’s bars, which are designed to be more ergonomic than classic dumbbells.
It’s almost impossible to make a reservation at Rao’s, the ten-table Italian icon. Fortunately, the restaurant makes its own line of jarred tomato sauces that epicures we talked to approve of. “Rao’s is so much better than everything else,” says Maile Carpenter, editor-in-chief of Food Network Magazine. This basket includes jars of its much-raved-about marinara, arrabbiata, and vodka sauces, along with dried pastas like linguine and penne.
Most of the spices in Strategist kitchen and dining writer Emma Wartzman’s pantry are from the Spice House. The line’s cheddar-cheese powder is one of the latest additions to her spice rack — bought in part because Wartzman is a self-professed sucker for Cheez-Its, Cheetos, and Doritos. This seasoning set includes that same powder, along with a savory maple-syrup blend, garlic-and-herb flavoring, and chili-and-paprika “fire salt.”
If she believes that fish is a dish best served tinned, then you can’t go wrong with this series from Fishwife. The pack includes full-size cans of smoked rainbow trout, Atlantic salmon, and albacore tuna that are each boxed up in colorful packs. The tuna is a favorite of Strategist beauty columnist Rio Viera-Newton, who describes it as “so fresh tasting I would never have known that it came canned.”
If Dove just won’t do, allow us to point you to Caswell-Massey, a soapmaker that has been around longer than the U.S. has been a country. The company’s delicately decorated bars first made an appearance in our story on holiday gifts that do good (and then all over our archives). This is one of their Year of Soap sets (which I can report does delight any recipient), featuring scents of gardenia, honeysuckle, lilac, and orchid that help support the New York Botanical Garden’s conservation work.
Slip’s silk has earned a loyal fanbase — its pillowcases are dermatologist-approved (especially for sensitive skin), and its scrunchies protect Strategist writer Dominique Pariso’s damage-prone hair from even more breakage. This set includes both, along with two extra (and slightly thinner) hair ties.
When we asked frequent fliers about their favorite toiletry bottles, Cadence’s capsules were highly recommended by Briona Lamback, founder of Buoyant Travel. The seemingly small containers can hold a lot, as Lamback can “usually get enough cleanser and moisturizer for a sixish-day trip in each capsule.” You can customize the bundle by color (with shades like lavender and terracotta) and with a label on the lid as a reminder of what’s inside.
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